Last week U2 announced the release of their latest album, Songs of Innocence, at Apple’s 2014 Product Launch Day.  More than half a billion iTunes customers received the album for free as a gift from Apple making it the most widely distributed album in history.  Of course it wasn’t really free, with a partnership struck between a company with 135 billion dollars or so in cash and one of the biggest bands in the world.  It was paid for by Apple as an investment to help in acquiring and retaining customers for their products, while also helping to build brand affinity. Interestingly, Bono compared the release to a birth of a child in a letter to fans (excerpt below):

“Remember us? Pleased to announce myself, Edge, Adam and Larry have finally given birth to our new baby… Songs of Innocence.”

It really is a powerful analogy, describing in a word the labor, excitement, and love resulting in this life event for the band. The distribution is akin to distributing baby pictures via social media to friends, family, and others…or is it?
While undoubtedly appreciated by many, the indifferent and offended will persist.  It was amusing that some people decided to post their anger at having the album appear on their phones, but even funnier that several media outlets led stories about how many people were angry over this seeming invasion of their music library.  My question is how many is many?  Is it 10, 100, 1,000 or 10,000, or even 100,000?  Even 100,000 would represent 2/10 of 1% of 500 million users, so I’m not sure that we need to exaggerate what “many” means.

To those who are not interested in the Album, Bono offers up the following quote:
And for the people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way . . . the blood, sweat and tears of some Irish guys are in your junk mail,”

So do we think that this album appearing unwanted in your music library is junk mail, just like an unwanted email or snail mail marketing pitch?  What about that unwanted banner ad or social media post?  If someone provides you with something of real value can it be classified the same?  I would argue no, if it has a high perceived value by the majority of participants.  In the case of U2s effort, I believe that threshold has been reached.

The fact that there is still some dissent though, does illustrate for marketers how important it is to engage the right consumers, with the right message, at the right time.  “Life events” for consumers can certainly be helpful in identification of the right time for financial service companies, but the targeting and messaging is absolutely crucial as well.  Being altruistic in some manner (as U2 and Apple may appear to be to the masses), can be helpful as well.

As for the Affinity Marketing, Apple aligning itself with U2 is the very definition of the power that can be brought to an affinity relationship.